Rich media, poor audiences
Becoming famous for his long fight against bad government and racial prejudice, Nelson Mandela became a hero to people all over the world.
On flipping any news channel, one is hit by a wave of, either live streaming of events happening at the hospital where he was admitted or updates on what his condition. Featuring quite prominently are documentaries on Madiba’s life and what he means to South Africa and the world.
Even on children’s programming and sports channels, Mandela’s name occasionally pops up.
A Google search of “Nelson Mandela” brings up “about 236 000 000 results” – a number that is growing by the day.
One South African, writing on a blog, identified himself as Daniel Sello, a resident of Attrigeville, Pretoria and the Biblical Daniel. He proclaimed in his article that Mandela is omnipotent.
“Mandela is God, that is why he will never die. He will be with us until the world ends,” Sello declared.
This Daniel-wannabe could certainly be off his rocker, but there is no denying that to a large extent, many people actually treat Mandela like God.
How did we get to this stage where Mandela can do no wrong and should not be criticised?
We have the ludicrous idea that Mandela single-handedly fought apartheid and made South Africa into the “Rainbow Nation” that we always hear and read about.
But it is time we faced the truth: in Africa we have our reasons for honouring Mandela; but we have been herded into a pen where we all bleat the Mandela is god-like platitudes by a very sophisticated media machinery that has been used to raise the man onto an unreachable pedestal.
The West celebrates Mandela because he left the apartheid economy and social structure more or less intact, he did not threaten the interests of capital in South Africa.
Now every leader in Africa is urged to be like Mandela, so that they too do not threaten the interests of capital and so that they too may be celebrated in the media.
Mandela has become the ideal image of an African President: one who does not touch white capital and its interests. And the ordinary people are daily bombarded with Mandela’s “sainthood” so that they unwittingly hold every other African leader to a standard that was created in the West for the benefit of the West.
That is the purpose of a rich white media and a captive, poor black audience.
The media have been able to get people to compare Mandela to Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
Mugabe does not mince his words and is very direct in his actions: if he says there will be land reform, there will be land reform; if he says there will be economic empowerment, that is exactly what happens. And no apologies are made.
Mandela on the other hand never really antagonised capital and its interests.
So Mandela is a “good African” and Mugabe is a “dictator”.
South Africa’s white minority still control 70 percent of the economy. The majority, blacks, are poor and live in the worst houses and have no prospects for improvement.
But it is this black majority that has swallowed a media line concocted in the West that Mandela is a hero and every African leader should be like him.
That is the power that rich white media have over poor black audiences.
Mugabe put it thus in a recent interview with South Africa’s Dali Tambo: “…they will praise you only if you are doing things that please them … Mandela has gone a bit too far in doing good to the non-black communities, really in some cases at the expense of blacks…”
And this reminds me of Luke 6:26 which says, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”
Mandela did good by organising the ANC against apartheid, and he suffered greatly all those years in prison. Unfortunately, the major thing he worked for – social and economic equality as enshrined in the Freedom Charter – has not materialised and he should take some of the blame for that failure.
The statues, street names, portraits, postage stamps, documentaries and tears from the West are simply to say: “Thank you Mandela for not upsetting the status quo.”
What this also tells us is that we need to come up with our own truly pro-Africa media institutions.
This is so that we do not have heroes created for us and that our story is not re-written by foreigners who have their own agendas on our continent.
We rely too much on Western media houses and on local media organisations that are ultimately owned by the same people who oppressed us during colonialism and continue to control our economies.
No good can ever come out of this!
One writer has said, “IT doesn’t matter if you are reading South Africa’s The Star in Johannesburg, Ghana’s Daily Graphic in Accra or the Gambia’s Daily Observer in Banjul: the African section will be a cut-and-paste job from Western news sources writing for Western audiences.”